Midterm Essay: Notion of God’s Love
The notion of the God’s love can be called one of the key doctrines in Christian theology. It is of great importance both for the classic theology and for the contemporary discussion regarding the immutability of God.
To start with, classical approach in theology features many Greek ideas that are alien to the words of the Bible. This theory was formed under the influence of the ideas of Platonic philosophy. Among the main ideas that were borrowed by Christian theologists were the assumption that God is perfect and thus unchangeable, because even a minor change would mean a step towards imperfection. It is also considered that there is nothing that God needs and so He is not able to love. According to the doctrine of classical theism God is the ruler of the universe and everything that happens is the result of His will. God controls everything, deprives people of their freedom of choices and is transcendent by His nature.
The modern discussion of this issue tries to prove that the love of God is similar to the love of a human. The immutability of God is doubted, as well as His ability to control everything that is happening in the world. One of the examples that show the attitude of contemporary scholars to the problem of God’s love is the example of Nazi concentration camps. Such episodes from the history make people ask rhetorical questions where was God when such mass slaughters were happening.
The dispute about the immutability of God and His love to people is of great significance to the theological thought, because it refers to the questions of human free will, ability to chose and responsibility for the choices. Perhaps, these questions touch the senses of all religious people.
The discussion of the God’s love between Vanhoozer and Nygren starts from defining several kinds of love according to the Platonic philosophy. Nygren argues about the difference between agape and eros, trying to understand what corresponds to the love of God more of these two notions. Nygren writes that the New Testament is an example of agape, an altruistic love of God towards people. He emphasizes that is different form Platonic ideas because agape of Jesus is conscious, it is his choice to love all people, both sinners and saints. According to Nygren, agape is the way God loves people, it is a self giving feeling. People go to God with another kind of love, eros. It depends upon the quality of the object for love – the better the object is, the more people love it and desire. God, as Nygren assumes, does not need a reason to love a human, He is indifferent to human merit.
Vanhoozer suggests that the nature of God’s love is the same with the one of human love. According to him, Jesus was an example of a man, who achieved the highest moral state, who managed to cope with his negative emotions and to love all people. Vanhoozer thinks that God can not love everyone regardless the person’s merit just because it is not characteristic to human nature. He thinks that it is unfair that sinners are loved by Jesus just like those who tried to live the right life.
I agree more with Nygren on this issue. I do not think that a person needs to prove something to God and to work for His love. The key point of Christianity is in the assumption that it is not important who are you, what have you done in life and how many sins you have committed. God loves you even though no one else does it.
Feinberg participated in the discussion concerning the immutability of God with Open theists. He investigates into the main issue of classical theology that supposes that God is perfect, He can not change and he is characterized by strong immutability. His emotions can not change, because every change is a step towards imperfection and so His feelings remain the same. It does not matter to God whether the human kind is in happiness or pain. Their sufferings do not change His perfect emotional state, but this state does not mean cruel indifference. He is fair to everyone, regardless the sins of a person He judges.
These ideas expressed by Feinberg are opposite to the ones that support Open theists. They claim that they do not correspond to the words of the Bible. However, their own version of a human-like God is also far from the Holy Scripture. According to their point of view, God is slightly incomplete. He does not exist beyond time, does not know everything and is not all-mighty. In fact, Open theists argue with the general attributes that classical theists give to God: omniscience, timelessness, impassibility and immutability. Those categories were introduces by the Greek philosophers and only then taken by Christian theologists. In fact, they were not taken from the Holy Scripture and thus can be argued about.
Feinberg understands that both of the variants do not correspond to the Holy Scripture and so he suggested his own variant, that combines the classical theory and the ideas of Open theism. He writes that inherent attributes of God and His moral character can not undergo changes. However, such things like the relationship between people and God and God’s emotions towards people can alter. The solution Feinberg proposes reconciles the two theories concerning the unchangeable and changing aspects of the nature of God.
The issue of immutability of God and His love for the mankind is of great importance for the gospel and Christian ministry. These notions are connected with the main questions the faithful people ask when they try to understand Christianity. The question whether God loves all people or only the chosen ones, who were not committing sins in their life can lead to different conclusions. First, if it is assumed that God loves everyone regardless personal merits, many people will find hope and powers to live on, even if no one else loves them and their lives are full of problems. In this case God is not only love, as it is often said, but also hope for salvation. Second, the immutability of God gives the faithful people stability that they might lack in their constantly changing lives. No matter what happens, there is God that waits for them and understands them.
From another point of view that supposes that God is not all-mighty and can change His emotions towards people just like they do. His love is very similar to the love of people, and that makes it easy to understand for everyone. The idea that God loves not all people and His love depends upon the personal merit of the object also has its positive impact on Christian preaching. If not all people can save their souls and become loved by God, they might try to become better. In all cases, the question whether God loves everyone or His love is only for saints, gives many people the information for thinking.
Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Nothing Greater, Nothing Better. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001.